The Memphis Grizzlies are looking to extend their win streak to three tonight in their final game before the All-Star break. They have to be feeling pretty good after dismantling the Houston Rockets and taking care of business against a red-hot Wizards squad that had won 7 of its last 9.
While the All-Star break is usually a welcome time for teams to get some rest and catch a breather, you could argue that its coming at the wrong time for the Grizzlies. Things are clicking right now — Justise Winslow looks comfortable in his role. Ja Morant had his best game since the opener, and De’Anthony Melton is making it harder and harder for Coach Taylor Jenkins to cut his minutes.
The Grizz do have a tall task at hand though tonight, taking on the reigning MVP from the last two seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks will be looking to bounce back after a loss to Denver Tuesday night.
To get ready for tonight’s game, Kyle Carr from SB Nation’s “Brew Hoop” joined me to answer 5 questions about the present and future of the Bucks.
1. Point Guard Jrue Holiday, well-known Grizz killer, recently returned to the Bucks lineup after a 10 game absence. How big of a boost is that for Milwaukee?
It will be great for Milwaukee who have had mixed results with his absence. The Bucks did win against the teams they should have like the Kings and Timberwolves but struggled against the Jazz and Raptors. Jrue brings an intelligence and calm that the Bucks need on offense while bringing tenacity on defense. Just having him available will be great even if he isn’t at 100% as he recovers from COVID.
2. Prior to the loss to Denver, you guys have put together a nice win streak. The win streak followed a 5-game losing streak. In your opinion, what’s been the biggest difference on the court between those two streaks?
Part of the winning streak was playing not great teams. The Kings, Timberwolves and Thunder are hovering around the bottom of the Western Conference while the Pelicans are an ok team. The win against the Clippers was very impressive for a Bucks team who didn’t have a marquee win this season. Milwaukee’s losing streak was a combination of playing tougher teams like the Suns and Jazz, on the road, and Raptors and the previously mentioned not having Jrue Holiday available.
3. Is this year NBA Finals or Bust? With Giannis signing a big time extension, is the fanbase ok with not going to the Finals, knowing the Title window will be open for a bit longer?
Coach Budenholzer did say in preseason, before Giannis signed the Supermax, that this season wasn’t Championship or Bust. Bucks Twitter did NOT feel the same way but then again Bucks Twitter will freak out, overreact, and want everyone not named Giannis either fired or traded after every loss in the regular season. But with Giannis signing his extension, I still think it is Finals or Bust because fans know these opportunities seem like the best chance with the last two disappointing playoff exits. Philly is a threat and they are improved from last year, Brooklyn have a very good Big 3 that stand in Milwaukee’s way, Boston might get it together and the Raptors and Heat are still lurking around. It would just be tough to not have this generational talent and not be able to get to the Finals and would give Bucks fans a feeling like they are wasting his prime similar to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
4. As the trade deadline approaches, will Milwaukee be buyers or are you expecting them to stand pat?
Because of their current cap situation, I think Milwaukee will stand pat at the trade deadline. Unless Milwaukee wants to trade one of Brook Lopez or Donte DiVincenzo, there isn’t many players on Milwaukee’s roster that have much value. Ideally, maybe the Bucks can sell high on one of those two to get an upgrade on center and two guard or find someone willing to take DJ Wilson for even a bottom of the bench player or a protected second round pick.
5. What’s the biggest key to defeating the Grizzlies in the last game before the All-Star break?
As Milwaukee learned on Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets, their offense cannot go through an ugly slump which included going 4/23 from three in the first half. The Bucks also need to defend the three pointer well which has been a struggle for them as they try new things on defense. Giannis and Brook Lopez’s rim protection will be needed against the likes of Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas which could hopefully limit the drive and kick or post passes to players like Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, and De’Anthony Melton.